09 September 2015

Olympia and beyond!

In yesterday's post from the 2015 Great British Beer Festival I mentioned my short must-drink list. In fact there was only one other item on it: Harvey's Sussex Dark Mild, a beer I have inexplicably failed to encounter on previous visits to The Royal Oak and, er, Sussex. But seeking out hard-to-find British beers is a big part of what the festival is about and, conveniently, Harvey's had a standalone corporate bar on the main festival floor. A half of mild, please. Although it's only 3% ABV and a dark cherry-red rather than full-on black, it's absolutely packed with flavour, nearly to the point where it misses the quaffability factor essential to the mild spec. There's a tart, acidic aroma and this brings an autumnal blackberry effect to the flavour. Tannins loom large, adding a dry, burnt tea taste, and then a quintessentially English metallic hop tang right on the finish. I was expecting more roast or coffee notes but there aren't really any: this mild is all about the fruit. I can't imagine caning pints of it, but it's a very enjoyable sipper.

Another brewery staking a claim on a bar of their own was local crew Fuller's, who had a 170th Anniversary Ale on the pumps. It's very marmalade: thick and orangey, with lots of wholegrain toast from the malt. At 7% ABV it's strong, but so smooth and warming that it could even pass for bigger. I enjoyed it. Marmalade is also a theme in Portobello VPA (Very Pale Ale), a 4%-er from one of the new-wave London microbreweries. Obviously it's much lighter, watery even, but still has the citrus peel tang. I think it may have been let down by the serve, however: mine was hazy and headless. A fairly inoffensive beer, this, if a little on the thin and insipid side.

My last British beer of the festival was the best one. I'd heard of Durham White Stout when it first came out a few years ago but had never seen it in real life until I happened to be passing the relevant bar in Olympia. The name is clearly intended to attract novelty-seekers and it certainly drew me in. What I got in my glass was a clear golden ale, stonkingly stout at 7.2% ABV. The high hopping with, I assume, English varieties gives it a fantastic green leafy spiciness, set on a rich honey-sweet lager-like base and livened further with sparks of black and white pepper. It's absolutely beautifully done and, while it may have nothing at all in common with modern dark stout, it's golden ale perfection.

I tried just a handful of continental beers. Keesmann Herren Pils, obviously, because it's not one to ever pass by, and the other German was Colonia, a red ale from Braustelle. It's 6% ABV and an orange-brown colour. And it's very sweet -- too sweet really -- with a big whack of coconut in the middle of the flavour. De Molen also had a heavy coconutty number: the barrel aged Licht & Lustig, adding lavender and hard candy to fresh hop dank and woody sap. It's a very odd combination and I don't think it quite works.

Two Czech ales before we leave. The dependable Kocour had a light amber ale called Catfish, a murky orange colour, full of spicy hop resins and tasting heavier than its mere 4.1% ABV, balancing the hops with smooth caramel. Permon is a new Czech brewery on me, and I tried P.A.P.A. (Permon American Pale Ale). 5% ABV, hazy orange, no head and a big resinous piney aroma. The flavour itself is big on grain, with a grassy, pithy bitter finish. It's all rather dour and serious and needs more of a citrus burst to be properly US-style.

Eight hours after the first beer, we deemed the 2015 Great British Beer Festival to be done and made our farewells. Thanks to Neil and all the CAMRA team and volunteers who made it possible.

Time for dinner and we took the easy option of the generic curry house next to our hotel in Shepherd's Bush. Generic curry house lager was absolutely fine with me and I ordered a bottle of Mongoose. Inspecting the label revealed that this is quite a clever and cheeky joke. The brewer, Charles Wells, brewed Cobra until 2011 when the brand owners moved to a new arrangement with  Molson Coors. What's a snubbed contractor to do but start making its own brand of Cobra-killer? Bam! Mongoose. It's a convincing knock-off, too: crisp and corny. Not as entertaining as the label, however.

Across from the restaurant is BrewDog's local outlet and there wasn't anything I wanted on the night after the festival but we were in the previous evening after our excursion to Hackney Wick. My first was Lizard Bride, the latest in a series of fruit-infused BrewDog IPAs. This one is purple with an unsurprising oddness in its mix of forest fruit tartness and tropical fruit hops, apricot and mango in particular. A sugary residue lingers long on the lips but it's not a heavy beer, despite the substantial 5.7% ABV. Fun and interesting for one but I imagine the novelty would wear off quite quickly.

I'd never had BrewDog's gluten-free ale, Vagabond, before, so I bought a half on draught. It's a mere 4.5% ABV but the BrewDog magic is still at work: a dank hop heaviness lightened by spritzy bitter grapefruit on a crisp malt base. No compromise here, just another tasty busily-hopped BrewDog pale ale.

Just one from the guest side of the menu board: London Beer City 2015 a special, if unimaginatively named, release from Bermondsey's Fourpure. It's a wheat beer of 4.3% ABV, presenting a pale and hazy yellow with a mild herbal funk for an aroma. The flavour is all bitter and perfumeish ambergris with lots of heavy resins. Tough going, especially considering the strength, and all a bit too serious for something that's supposed to be marking a celebration.

And just because it was there, we had a post-festival nightcap in The Sindercombe Social, a rangy upmarket pub across Goldhawk Road from BrewDog. Herself opted for Meantime Amarillo on keg. This is barely amber at all and while it has a fun fresh hop aroma, green and grassy, it tastes very harsh and waxy and too sharply dry. I noticed bottles of Tiny Rebel's Dirty Stop Out and, since the Welsh brewery had just claimed Champion Beer of Britain for another of their line, I felt it was appropriate to join the celebrations with this. It's an oak smoked stout of 5% ABV, properly black with just tints of red at the edges. Dry roasted cereal is the first impression it gives with a big lacing of fresh vegetal hops then sweeter tobacco and liquorice with the smoke providing a long finish. Luxurious drinking and, as the name suggests, great for a nightcap.

With the hard work done there was just one casual day's drinking in London to go...

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